February 7, 2014

‘Part of the call to discipleship’: Bloomington parish starts new program with Lilly grant money

Dominican Father Simon-Felix Michalski, associate pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center, talks with an Indiana University student on the Bloomington campus in this Aug. 26, 2013, photo. Father Simon is meeting weekly with the student leaders of the small group program the parish’s campus ministry launched this semester. (Photo courtesy Jon Blau of the Herald-Times)

Dominican Father Simon-Felix Michalski, associate pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center, talks with an Indiana University student on the Bloomington campus in this Aug. 26, 2013, photo. Father Simon is meeting weekly with the student leaders of the small group program the parish’s campus ministry launched this semester. (Photo courtesy Jon Blau of the Herald-Times)

By Natalie Hoefer

BLOOMINGTON—The young man sat forward in his chair, expressing enthusiasm as his finger tapped the table to emphasize his points.

“You always hear that part of being Christian is spreading the good news,” he said. “I’d always heard that and thought, ‘Well, that’s something I can choose or not.’

“But the more involved you get and the more into your faith you get, you see why it’s so good, and you want other people to have the same thing.”

The young man is not a priest, seminarian or director of catechesis in a parish.

He is Pierce Cavanaugh, a senior at Indiana University (IU) and one of the first leaders of a network of small faith groups being established at the university through a new campus evangelization program started by St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.

The program is the result of the parish campus ministry receiving $98,055 through a Lilly Endowment grant last fall.

‘It was just the right time’

It all started with an unexpected phone call last summer.

“[Lilly Endowment] actually called us to put together a proposal” for a public university faith-building grant, explained Dominican Father John Meany, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center and director of student ministry.

The call was a “gift from God,” he said.

“We estimate there are between 8,000-9,000 Catholics out of about 43,000 students at IU,” said Father John. “It’s a wonderful place of education, but it is still a place of a ‘people who live in darkness’ from our perspective.”

He and his team put together a campus evangelization plan, but had no money to fund it. The invitation last summer to submit a proposal for the grant was a welcome surprise.

Being one of just 21 universities nation-wide selected to receive grant money in November was even better.

“I was just ecstatic the day I found out we got the grant,” said Tara Doyon, development director for St. Paul Catholic Center who wrote the grant proposal. “It was just huge. The proposal was prayed over, cried over, hair pulled out, but it’s just so worth it. For us, it was just the right time.”

‘Part of the call to discipleship’

The proposal described a plan to start and expand student-led small groups on campus with the help of The Evangelical Catholic. The Madison, Wis.-based organization helps universities and parishes with evangelization efforts.

Based on a three-year contract, The Evangelical Catholic will provide guidance, training, consultation and support to St. Paul Catholic Center’s campus ministry staff and student leaders to assure the success of the groups.

Father John said The Evangelical Catholic was selected because their program “allows us to form students to be missionaries.

“Part of our task, I feel, is to give the students here a good experience of Church,” he said, “so when they leave, they have this wonderful experience of how Church should work.

“Part of that is to see their role in the Church as not just coming to Mass on Sunday, but to be missionaries themselves. That’s part of the call to discipleship,” Father John explained.

Deepening relationship with Christ

James Carrano, associate director of The Evangelical Catholic who is serving as the consultant for St. Paul Catholic Center, explained how the small faith group model works to create intentional disciples.

Carrano cited a statistic from Sherry Weddell’s book, Forming Intentional Disciples, stating that “a majority of people who come to Mass do not have a personal relationship with anyone else who is at the Mass, which leads to them just drifting away.

“So these small groups … create intentional environments where people can encounter Jesus Christ through sacred Scripture, personal relationships, and have room to dialogue,” he explained.

The groups are open to those of any faith background, he said, but are designed especially for nominal Catholics.

“The whole thing is meant for them to deepen their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Once they have that, then Jesus says, ‘This is how I’m going to engage you—through the Church and into the world.’ ”

Seeking leaders who are ‘FAT’

Carrano said The Evangelical Catholic works strategically to expand the program, “but not at the expense of personal relationship.

“So we teach and coach the leaders in how to lead a group, and to know the material well so that they can focus on the people who are there instead of thinking about the material,” he said.

Carrano said they use the acronym “FAT”—faithful, available and teachable—to describe the students they seek to lead the small groups.

As part of their training, the student leaders meet with St. Paul Catholic Center associate pastor Dominican Father Simon-Felix Michalski once a week for instruction with material from The Evangelical Catholic. Additionally, Father Simon and some of the student leaders attended a weeklong training camp led by The Evangelical Catholic.

Sarah Stubbs, a sophomore German major at IU who grew up at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, is one of the group leaders who attended the training camp.

“There were practical things, like how to handle someone who dominates a conversation and things like that,” she said.

“There were also times we talked about your connection with Christ in prayer. … Building yourself up with that foundation is what your small group is based upon.”

‘Inspire them to own their faith’

Group leader Cavanaugh, a senior in sports broadcast communication and graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis, was not always involved at St. Paul Catholic Center.

“I never went to Mass at all the first year [at IU],” he admitted.

“The second year, the only reason I started going to Mass is because my parents came this one day, and I got busted because I didn’t know how the plate passing system worked. Then I decided I should probably start going to Mass.”

Now Cavanaugh is enthusiastic about leading a small faith group.

“I want to talk to other friends about this,” he said. “I want to have friends here [in a small group] who have faith but don’t have it as a part of their life, who want to figure out how to let their faith be part of who they are, and talking to other people who are in the same boat.”

Stubbs is also enthusiastic.

“I look forward to expanding this on campus, inviting people who aren’t Catholic, but also people who are maybe Catholic but not active. I want to inspire them to own their faith, because it’s really cool!” she said.

Father Simon smiled at Stubbs’ enthusiasm.

“Obviously, the students are eager,” he said. “They have a heart for what this is about. They have a real heart for Christ and they want to promote the Gospel.

“The students take what they learn here to build up the body of Christ in the world,” said Father Simon. “What we’re doing here is really important to God.”

(For information about St. Paul Catholic Center’s small group evangelization program, contact Father Simon-Felix Michalski at frsimon@hoosiercatholic.org or 812-339-5561, ext. 212. To support the program at St. Paul Catholic Center, contact Tara Doyon at tdoyon@hoosiercatholic.org or 812-339-5561, ext. 214. For more information about The Evangelical Catholic, log on to www.evangelicalcatholic.org.)

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